Thursday, December 28, 2006

Joseph and Jesus' relationship

USA weekend magazine had an article last weekend entitled "Why Joseph Matters Today." Its interest is clear:-

as Americans worry about the weakening role of fatherhood in today's culture, Joseph is attracting renewed interest. But how did Joseph evolve into a modern-day hero, a model for men and families?

The article explores first patristic and then medieval interpretations of Joseph from Augustine who describes Joseph as Jesus' spiritual father to 12th Century descriptions of Joseph as a father through love and service.

The article concludes:-

"Many men have experienced an absent or emotionally distant father," says Steve Wood, founder of the St. Joseph Covenant Keepers, a men's group based in South Carolina. "St. Joseph is that tangible role model that fathers can have for parenting and protecting their own children, for faithfulness in marriage and for a being a pure man, morally and sexually."

Ultimately, Joseph's story is one of a lengthy transformation from the shadows of Christianity to its forefront, from an uncertain status to a majestic position as the protector and nurturer of Jesus, Mary and Christian believers.

What the article fails to note however (possibly because the author is a newly minted dissertation writer and not a New Testament scholar) is that the gospel writers never call Joseph Jesus' father. Matthew, for example, consistently describes Joseph, Jesus and Mary in narrative as "Joseph, the child and his mother." No attempt to rehabilitate Joseph can fail to come to terms with this fact.

What the article in fact attempts to do (in line with patristic and medieval interpretation at least as far as the citations go) is to rehabilitate Joseph by giving Joseph (and Jesus) a respectable if not biological family of origin. But this isn't based on an interpretation of the text of the New Testament or Christian tradition. What gospel writers like Matthew are doing in fact is articulating a respectful distance between Joseph and the child with his mother in the context of a gospel in which Jesus teaches the disciples to pray: Our Father, the one in the heavens. In fact, Pseudo-Matthew and other late biblical paraphrases articulate Matthew's carefully worded distinction. For a detailed discussion, see chapter two of Jesus' Family Values.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting that the article refers to Joseph as the "second Christian" (after Mary) when as far as I can tell there is NO evidence that he was even around! (Not sure I think of Mary as the "1st Christian" either).

I'm guessing the Steve Wood who is quoted is the same Steve Wood who is one of the most conservative priests in a very conservative diocese. He would be the type to worry about men's "headship" in the family, and keeping women in their proper place. The need to elevate Joseph fits in with that.

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